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Affiliate Marketing Product Feeds Introduction

Adrian Singer, 01-06-2008
If you're looking to do Affiliate Marketing with commodity items, you need merchant product feeds.

Product feeds are spreadsheets provided by a merchant (Amazon.com, Overstock.com, Zappos.com etc) listing every single product available for you to promote and earn a commission for.

While you only need a single link when you're building a NetFlix landing page, a lot more comes into play when you're setting up a niche shoes store, virtual shopping mall or comparison shopping site, displaying hundreds of products from multiple vendors.

CommissionJunction, LinkShare and ShareASale are the top affiliate networks offering merchant product feeds. Signup for an account with all three so that you cover all merchants in your target verticals.

Once you have an account, apply for the merchants you are looking to promote. You are also going to have to apply for FTP product-feed access (One-time $200 fee with CommissionJunction, $250 with LinkShare and free with ShareASale).

A typical merchant product-feed includes:

Product ID (merchant specific)
Product Name
Product Description
Product Image (small)
Price
Affiliate URL
Category (merchant specific)

Some feeds also include information about the Product Manufacturer and the Manufacturer SKU.

Once you start handling product feeds, you'll find just like anything else in life, product feeds are not perfect.

Merchants try to keep all information in the product-feed accurate and up to date, but there are often price mismatches, broken urls, missing images, bad descriptions and proprietary categories.

As an example, here's a record from today's Buy.com product-feed for the "Desktop Computers" category of products -



Yes, you're looking at a phone, incorrectly categorized as a Desktop Computer.

Another thing to note is that Buy.com, much like all other merchants, doesn't provide all information they have about a product as part of the product data-feed.

Here is how the exact same product is represented on the Buy.com website:



Notice the brand-level categorization, detailed product summary, tech spec, warranty information and reviews, all of which missing from the product feed.

So before you integrate a merchant's product feed with your website, you have to scrub it. And since you'll be dealing with thousands of records, automation is key.

6 Steps to Scrubbing Product Data Feeds:

In general, Product ID, name, price and url are the only four fields you can rely on in a merchant's product feed.

Images are going to be too small, descriptions too short and categories - merchant specific.

The steps to effectively downloading and processing data feeds:

1. Download merchant product data feed from FTP site

2. Write a script that will iterate through all data feed listings and identify the unique product each listing is describing.

Hint: If you operate in an industry that has universal product SKUs (books, laptops etc) it's easy. However if you're dealing with shoes, magazines or jewelry - you'll have to employ some "fuzzy logic" to identify two listings referring to the same product, each using a different name.

3. Identify a website that offers the best (largest size) images for products in your target industry. Check copyright regulations and if all is well, write a script that will harvest the larger than life images and match them to products.

4. Identify a website that offers the best (longest) descriptions for products in your target industry. Check copyright regulations and if al is well, write a script that will harvest the descriptions and match them to products.

Important note about descriptions - Having unique descriptions is a lot better than scrapping the same description all of your competitors use. If you have the budget, invest in paying a writer to write new descriptions for your website, at least for the most popoular products. You'll score points with the search engines as well as with your website visitors.

5. Decide on a category structure for your website (get ideas for competing sites in your industry) and then write a script that will match merchant categories to yours.

Every merchant is going to have different names to their categories and in order to have products from different merchants show up under the proper categories on your website, you'll have to develop a matching table.

6. Write a basic script that will iterate through all destination urls looking for a specific phrase to indicate the page loaded successfully. Automate this. If you're sending PPC traffic to your website, you're going to want to know when a destination URL stops working - so you can stop promoting that individual product.

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That's it.

Affiliate Marketing with Product Feeds offers huge benefits, but requires a lot of planning, testing and ongoing monitoring.

Are you using product feeds as part of your affiliate marketing strategy?

Please comment and let me know if you are following a similar system or if you've simplified things.

George Sampath, 01-07-2008
Tnx for the breakdown it's very helpful.

I am following a similar process but struggling with how to match multiple listings of the same products when the product name is different and there are no skus

Ron, 01-15-2008
Geez, Melissa Salas pay attention!

nancy, 03-12-2009
Thanks for this, as I'm just researching an idea this post has been very helpful. I do have a question though - how do I gain access to product feeds from niche merchants that are not signed up to any kind of affiliate network? Do I have to have a third party (or software) that can do this for me (is this even a service that is available) or do I have to encourage merchants to join an existing network and contact them directly to make arrangements? Any advice would be gratefully received. ps, it's very early days for me so please forgive any terminology blips.

Regards

Nancy
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